Time for Rhinos to rise to Cup challenge against Wigan

‘DON’T leave anything out there’ is one of the oldest commands in the coaching vocabulary.

Yet, for Leeds Rhinos afternoon, it will be as true and meaningful as ever before.

To a man, the squad know they failed to deliver anywhere near their best in last year’s Challenge Cup final, which meant Warrington Wolves were allowed to look a far superior side than they actually were. The contest everyone was expecting never materialised.

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If Leeds are to avoid the same unbearable result today – and most of those who endured it will line up once more – they must learn from the downfalls of 12 months ago.

Regardless of how stellar Wigan are perceived to be, if Brian McDermott’s side can produce their best it could be enough to lift the trophy but they have to get everything spot on.

Rarely do the Warriors, on a 12-match winning run, suffer an off-day and Leeds cannot rely on that despite all the immense pressure which will be heaped on opponents whose last appearance at Wembley saw the biggest shock in Challenge Cup history.

Much of Leeds’s woe last year stemmed from their ineffectual kicking game which failed to place the necessary pressure on Warrington who, conversely, saw Lee Briers’s boot torment.

Wigan, with the rapier thrust of Sam Tomkins returning kicks, will make them pay even more so Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire must get it right with their options both in terms of their clearing kicks and close-range attacking variation.

When opportunities to strike arise, they need to profit fully. A mixture of profligacy and excellent Wolves defence, with full-back Richard Mathers outstanding, denied Leeds in 2010 but Wigan’s rearguard is even more resolute so there is no scope to see chances missed.

For instance, if Ryan Bailey had taken his gilt-edged shot in the fourth minute against Wolves when the prop tried barging over Mathers instead of rounding him, the game’s momentum could have taken an early swing in Leeds’s favour.

They require that today, for certain – a strong start. Danny Buderus spilled the actual kick-off last season. If receiving this time, a solid set of six followed by a decent kick-chase alone would do so much to instil confidence for the task ahead and banish any lingering negativity from 2010.

McDermott’s squad selection is also going to be crucial.

If Kallum Watkins’s knee is still causing problems this morning, for all the need for his obvious attacking quality, he simply cannot be risked. Leeds paid the price once before for playing an unfit centre in a Challenge Cup final when Keith Senior limped off never to return in the first half of their 2005 loss at Cardiff. Wembley is no place for carrying passengers.

Similarly, the Leeds coach has to get the make-up of his bench correct. Perhaps Brian McClennan’s biggest faux-pas last August was omitting Ali Lauitiiti from his 17; the big Samoan certainly has his failings but how they needed someone of his game-breaking ability when Mathers and co were proving so resilient. The ball-handling second-row was on the bench – but sat in his suit.

Another requirement is for Leeds to have faith in their gameplan and stick to it.

When points started to be conceded against Warrington, their offensive cohesion deteriorated just as much as their defence as pressured players – albeit with the right intentions – tried searching for some individual brilliance to get a way back into the contest. All that happened was confusion.

The Rhinos must stay organised and patient; McDermott’s tactics against Wigan have proved successful twice before this season even if they have yet to earn a win.

Their positive performance in the draw at Headingley and that controversial two point loss at DW Stadium showed his squad have the ability and wherewithal to trouble the champions.

Wigan are packed with quality though and have just as much confidence seeping throughout their squad.

With players such as Sean O’Loughlin, Paul Deacon and Thomas Leuluai they boast experience and class in key positions before Tomkins even comes into the equation.

When it comes to the battle up front, the Yorkshiremen badly lacked the leadership and inspirational quality of injured Jamie Peacock last season.

The England captain’s presence this time will serve as a huge bonus to their hopes of success. The experienced prop will also help ensure they stick to the plans sent out by McDermott.

However, even if they fulfil all of their tactical ploys – attack with verve and panache, defend with complete determination and zeal – it may not be enough to thwart this Wigan side.

Leeds players, though, will be able to look themselves in the mirror, something which will have been hard in the aftermath of last year’s debacle.

If everything they have is given, no one can ask for any more.

Where leeds can win the match

Kicking game

Leeds must build pressure with their kicking options – but their following defence is just as important.

Team selection

Brian McDermott has to get his personnel right; can Ali Lauitiiti be omitted again?

Nerves

There can be no bedding-in period overcoming any jitters and getting used to the Wembley atmosphere – Wigan will start fast.

Attacking quality

Leeds must be clinical and take every chance; their opponents do not give many let-offs.